Have you ever “cheated” in a mystery novel or movie? Maybe you were working your way through the plot, but you just couldn’t get through all of the detail. Or, maybe you ran out of time, whether the book had to be returned to the library or you needed to call it a night and wanted to finish the movie before going to bed. So, you flip or fast-forward to the last chapter, and learn from the detective (or, if it’s a Hallmark movie, the local independent shop-owner) about who committed the crime, how they did it, and how the evidence leads to the conclusion.
In Romans 11, we find Paul referring to a “mystery”, but it sounds like one that we should understand. Now, a “mystery” in that era wasn’t something impossibly unknowable. It wasn’t something that no human could know. Instead, it was something that we could learn the answer to, but it might take some work to figure it out.
Think of a good mystery novel or TV show, or an old Columbo movie: It takes some work for both us (as the reader or viewer) and the detective to figure out what happened, but in the end, we learn the facts, and understand how it all went down.
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:
“The deliverer will come from Zion;
he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
And this is my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”
Romans 11:25-27 NIV
Paul’s point here isn’t necessarily obvious. I don’t think that the truth presented here was well known in his day, and it took some figuring out (or perhaps a message from God) to understand what was happening. To the untrained eye, it might have looked like a bunch of God’s people (i.e., Jewish people) were rejecting Jesus, while the formerly-heathen Gentiles (i.e., everyone else) were being allowed into God’s family.
However, while the facts were observable, some of the conclusions were not obvious. Without an explanation, Paul originally drew the wrong conclusions based on similar observations. In fact, he used to persecute Christians in a belief that he was defending the Jewish faith. In later years, Gentiles (to whom Paul was writing in the book of Romans) may have been thinking – incorrectly – that they were just better than their Jewish counterparts.
So, what did happen, instead? What was the actual purpose in the observed discrepancy between Jewish and Gentile acceptance of Jesus? Based on Romans 11, the resistance of some of the Jewish people resulted in salvation being extended to Gentiles. That’s a good thing, but it wasn’t the end of the story. Through envy incited by the Gentiles receiving God’s grace, Jewish people were drawn back to God, finding salvation through God’s grace (rather than being frustrated by the law’s inability to save them).
When you aren’t sure how to interpret circumstances in your own life, remember that we’re each part of God’s plan. Like a character in a book or movie, we don’t always have all of the information necessary to understand exactly what He is doing, but we can trust Him with the conclusion. For those who follow Jesus, we have already been given a peek at the final chapter, and the ending is amazing!
Like the brilliant author and planner that He is, God had a plan to help everyone, even though the path wasn’t always clear to everyone who was participating in that plan at the time that the book of Romans was written. Today, though, no matter who you are, the gift of salvation, ushered in through Jesus, is available to you.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for March 20, 2022
- The Lookout, March 20, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 2, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1998.